Mental Health and Chronic Pain

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Psychological support is an important component of treatment for individuals with chronic pain. The human experience of pain is both physical and emotional, and increasing our psychological flexibility can enhance quality of life for people with chronic pain. In some cases, this might mean softening our criticism of ourselves, dealing with guilt if we can no longer handle all of our responsibilities, coping with grief at the loss of our ability to work. Others may require support for anxiety, depression or thoughts of suicide.

People with chronic pain may also have had adverse childhood experiences that can influence how they experience pain. Examples of adverse childhood experiences include violence in the home, experiencing abuse or neglect, having a parent with substance use problems or mental health problems or experiencing parental separation through divorce or death. Psychological approaches can support people with chronic pain to heal from childhood trauma or post-traumatic stress disorder that may be exacerbating their experience of chronic pain.

Psychological approaches to chronic pain

Psychological approaches can also help identify ways that we unintentionally make our pain worse. This includes pain catastrophising, where we find ourselves ruminating and worrying about how pain will affect us in the future. It may also include fear avoidance, where we try to avoid activities that we think may make our pain worse but actually we end up isolating ourselves and letting our bodies deteriorate further. We may also push away and ignore difficult emotions such as anger and sadness instead of experiencing them and letting them pass by in their own time.

Common psychological approaches for chronic pain include cognitive behavioural therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, and mindfulness-based approaches. Other approaches that are less commonly used for chronic pain but report positive results include psychodynamic psychotherapy and eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR).

Some newer approaches to chronic pain are emerging that integrate several approaches including pain reprocessing therapy (PRT) and emotional awareness and expression therapy (EAET).

Many psychologists and psychotherapists use an integrative approach where they choose the best strategy for you as an individual.

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Chronic Pain Ireland and Turn2Me

Chronic Pain Ireland have partnered with Turn2Me who offer high-quality, safe, anonymous, and confidential services where you can gain support for your mental health online. In addition, members of Chronic Pain Ireland can access a monthly anonymous chronic pain support group which is facilitated by a Counsellor with lived experience of chronic pain.

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Coping with chronic pain in times of increased stress

Dr. Claire Hayes, Consultant Clinical Psychologist and the Clinical Director of Aware, offers advice on coping with chronic pain in times of increased stress and some simple exercises that you can try immediately.
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Further resources for psychological support

To find a psychologist, visit Psychological Society of Ireland

To find a psychotherapist, visit Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (IACP) or The Irish Association of Humanistic & Integrative Psychotherapy (IAHIP)

For further information on adverse childhood experiences: Fast Facts: Preventing Adverse Childhood Experiences |Violence Prevention|Injury Center|CDC

Pain Reprocessing

Emotional awareness and expression therapy (EAET) Unlearn Your Pain

Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR): EMDR Therapy’s Efficacy in the Treatment of Pain | Springer Publishing

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT):

Managing Chronic Pain: A Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy Approach

CBT Self Help Guide: Chronic pain self-help guide | NHS inform

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT): What Is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?

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